A family is strange, curious, many-headed beast. At times it can represent the soft bosom of familiarity – these people, after all, share your DNA. And yet on other occasions, families can resemble an am-dram production of Hamlet – all revenge plots and infighting and bloody (if metaphorical) murder. And just like am-dram Shakespeare, regardless of how old we grow, often we are assigned roles. Roles that are preserved in amber, from childhood through middle age and beyond.
Although The Martyr posits themselves as the savior of any family bash – they’re doing the food, the drinks, the playlist and the party favors – there can be a sinister side to their actions
What follows is a comprehensive list of the usual suspects that foul up any given family affair – whether a holiday, wedding, birthday or merely a fortuitous get-together. And if you struggle to pinpoint which archetype is the perfect fit for your cousin, aunt or brother, there’s a genuine chance that among your family, that role has been assigned to – yep, you guessed it – you.
1. The Latecomer
You know The Latecomer. It’s the person that sees the time listed on an invitation, but pays more attention to the date. So long as they turn up on that day, then who’s late, really? Chill, man – what’s the problem, where’s the fire? Of course, that attitude is all very well if the occasion is a university lecturer holding a drop-in session. Less so when a sibling is getting married. And yet, psychologist Nicholas Rose believes it’s an issue that’s actually rather complex.
“People have different relationships with time,” he points out. “To some, it’s really important to be on time, or early, but sometimes people can be late because they’re anxious. They want to make sure that they haven’t forgotten anything – as the last thing they want to do is to upset anybody by not having the right present – and they’re late because of that. So, actually, it may be because they have too much respect.” A fair point (although good luck Photoshopping yourself into my wedding photos, Brian).
2. The Competitor
“If you have a competitor in your family circle, you’ll know about it,” says relationship psychologist, Mairead Molloy. “The competitor is someone who finds it necessary to boast about their life achievements and prove their status within the family dynamic or, on the flip side, finds it appropriate to talk about the advantages they never had when compared to other members of the family.”
Straightforward as it seems to loathe this person, Molloy notes that this individual is “masking deep insecurities,” and quite badly. So while they’ll incessantly parade their ego or, worse, try to damage other people’s, understand that beneath that arrogance is self-esteem thin as tissue paper.
3. The Victim
The living embodiment of spilled milk, The Victim will deftly manoeuvre any topic of conversation into precisely how, actually, they’ve been left as the wounded party. “We do indeed take vacancies in families,” admits Rose, “so when you come into a family environment, there is a tendency to look for what’s missing and claim a space.”
Molloy adds that, “The victim at a family gathering will ensure that nothing is ever their fault, and at worst will play the role of being persecuted for simply being themselves. They will talk about how different they are, how they have never been understood, or are never listened to.” A conversational minefield, innocent questions are often misconstrued as savage barbs, to the extent that, according to Molloy, “certain topics become no-go zones.”
4. The Rebel
More than the sole sour jelly bean in a fruit flavored packet, The Rebel is the peanut butter cup in a bag of Jolly Ranchers. “A rebel will want to challenge the expectations and normal practices of a family,” says Rose. “It can be a problem because often the family environment is one where it’s considered that you should feel safe and be able to relax … and so a rebel is not going to be looked on favorably.”
Interestingly, Molloy differentiates between young and old rebels, as they tend to possess different energies. “It’s usually the older ones that are better to deal with at family gatherings,” she says, “simply because they’ve had the time to mature. The younger rebel however is difficult – they make little attempt to smile, mingle, or pretend to be enjoying themselves.” That said, for the very simple reason that The Rebel’s role is to be the yang to your yin – they despise your hobbies and love what you loathe – any interaction is going to be hard work.
5. The Winder-Upper
“Everyone’s way of being is often about getting attention,” claims Rose, “and it’s said that we’re good at what we felt loved for as children. But love gets confused with attention, so a child that was naughty or provocative would have received attention, and as a result may have felt that that was very important. So, winding-up becomes their way of getting attention.”
Brace yourself for year-round April Fools’, salt in your tea, and nary a sensible conversation – way into your 30s and beyond
For this, brace yourself for year-round April Fools’, salt in your tea, and nary a sensible conversation – way into your 30s and beyond. But, if that sounds a bit like a jail sentence, Rose suggests that “If you can’t just laugh along with them, the best thing to do is either to avoid them or to try and change the conversation.” Whatever you do, don’t pull their finger. We all know how that ends.
6. The Caner
Certain relatives will view a birthday party or anniversary as a welcome chance to catch up on family goings-on, or perhaps to nostalgicize about time past. And why not? Yet there’s always that one family member who sees ‘Grandma’s 80th’, and thinks ‘Massive rager’.
The Caner will strive to get their conversations in early doors, else they’ll be utterly intelligible
The issue is, as with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Rose points out that “In effect you’ve got different people on your hands – the sober person and the drunk person.” Anyone au fait with The Caner will strive to get their conversations in early doors, else they’ll be utterly intelligible – not to mention, insufferable – come sun-down. Also, as time wears on, The Caner can be at high risk of morphing into a whole new breed of irritant (see The Firestarter).
7. The Martyr
A not-too-distant cousin of The Victim, The Martyr is someone that, according to Rose, “always does everything. They’re the person that goes and gets the shopping at 6:00 in the morning, that has double booked themselves, and has fallen over because they can’t get the shopping out of the car.
They’re doing the food, the drinks, the playlist and the party favors – there can be a sinister side to their actions
“It’s always a difficult archetype, because what you really want to do is to tell them to relax and calm down, but you can’t because they will say, ‘But someone’s got to do it’ and take some sort of moral high ground.” Oddly, although The Martyr posits themselves as the savior of any family bash – they’re doing the food, the drinks, the playlist and the party favors – there can be a sinister side to their actions.
“It’s a kind of bullying,” says Rose, “because other people don’t allow themselves to do more, because they feel as though they’re not going to get it done in the right way. So they tend to stand back, even when they would like to be doing more, because The Martyr wants to do it all.”
8. The Invader
Yes, they mean well. Yes, they care. But, sweet lord, do they get all up in your business. “This is someone that has no bad intent towards anyone at all,” admits Molloy, “but they’re the relative who expects a rundown of your entire history since the last time they saw you – no matter how good or bad.
“It’s questions similar to ‘How’s the husband?’ when you’re in the middle of a divorce, or ‘When are you having children?’ when you’re 40 and on your third round of unsuccessful IVF. The Invader has no filter, and a mix of talking a little too loudly, standing a little too closely and speaking about everything you’d rather avoid can lead to an unpleasant time.”
9. The Expert
“The Expert is the person who knows how everything should be done,” says Rose. “It’s a bit like the one that wants to talk about themselves (The Competitor), but instead it’s about how the barbeque has to be lit, how long the food has to be cooked for and what’s the right wine to go with the food.”
The irony is, quite often The Expert doesn’t have any knowledge whatsoever, but likes to puff their chests out by pretending they’re an authority on a given topic – even if it’s the one you majored in. It’s a bit like performance art, only executed by an a**hole.